I loved a quote I read recently in the NYT by Maigread Eichten, president and chief executive of FRS, a maker of energy drinks:
One of the most memorable things one of my bosses at Pepsi told me was that if you really care about somebody, you give them constructive feedback. And if you don’t care about somebody, you only say positive things.
In my experience, a deep sign of respect is to help someone overcome the obstacles to their effectiveness. These obstacles usually show up in the form of small, but persistent personality tics. I find it heartbreaking when these things go unaddressed because of some kind of social norm. We need our colleagues at their best. Helping them to sweep away the pebbles on their path to impact, pebbles that are often visible to everyone but them, is a gift we can give, an obligation we have.
Much has been written about how to give feedback. The advice that has stuck in the popular imagination is to be careful about sequencing the hard messages. Sandwich the bad between the good. I’m largely indifferent to these kinds of tactics, and I’m predisposed to be more direct than most. I’ve found that it’s the intent that really matters. If you show up to the conversation truly committed to helping someone become more effective, then the structure and content will take care of itself. You won’t be inclined to make the most common mistake, which is to focus on managing your own discomfort with the interaction.
I often get asked about timing difficult feedback. When should you do it? When it is truly in the best interest of someone, when your input can make them better. When should you not do it? When it is more about you than it is about them. How do you know the difference? When you’re dreading it. Feedback is your chance to change a life. When you honor it for what it is, the task is trust-building and restorative.